That’s my mother! The photo is undated but I’m guessing late 50′s, early 60′s. Way before I came along… My parents adopted my brother and sister in the 50′s. I rolled around a decade or so later, also adopted, when my mother was 40. Having a newborn at that age was a big deal back then and people often commented on how cute their “grand daughter” was. They were (and are still) very old school so in a way it was kind of like being raised by grandparents. In hindsight it was a really cool thing – being brought up by greatest generation parents gave me gifts, traits and memories that are my dearest treasures today.
But that’s the topic for another blog… my point today is to talk about holiday traditions and here’s where my mother comes into play…
For 35 years my (awesome and adorable) dad worked at a paper mill in our small Oregon town. He was on the maintenance crew and always had to work Christmas Eve when the mill was down. So official Christmas for us was always Christmas Day. My inventive mother, however, always looking for ways to make my life sweet, had a little tradition that we did together on Christmas Eve…
I was told to go to the back room and wait… After awhile (it seemed like hours for an excited kid) I got the word and rushed to my Christmas stocking where mother put small 3×5 cards with limericks giving me hints of where my stocking gifts were hidden. The search for these small gifts – guided by my mother’s clever rhymes – kept me busy for hours and is one of my sweetest holiday memories. The wrapped gifts were minimal – to this day I can’t remember a single one – but the effort she put into it and the fun of decoding the rhymes and finding the gifts is one of my dearest memories.
Fast forward to my own adult life… we don’t have children but my adorable husband, Peter, acts like a kid when it comes to Christmas. He’s from Sweden and “Jule” (Yule) is a big deal during their dark and snowy winters.
Quite accidentally we started a tradition in 2002 that we’ve done every year since (except last year when the beloved mother was in the hospital and my presence was required at home). THE COOKIE PARTY!
It began simply enough. Peter – who has the biggest sweet tooth I have ever encountered – told me very matter-of-factly one day that “old Swedish ladies” had a formula for a proper cookie plate that essentially included a sugar cookie, something pastry-like and something with chocolate. (The theory is much more elaborate than this but I won’t bore you with his thesis-length ideas of what makes an acceptable sweet tray.) So I decided to make a variety of cookies and have a holiday party to fulfill his memories of what a proper cookie assemblage looked like.
[Cookie parties aren't new... but the twist on this party is that it also gives me a chance to exercise my baking skills and my OCD (both also gifts from my mother!) so I do all the baking myself.]
When our dear friend Lara heard what we were up to, she (also being of Swedish descent) suggested we make Glogg for the party and she would be willing to share her secret family recipe. So that high-octane element was added to the mix. That first year she insisted that only “the Swedes” were allowed to know the ingredients and she and Peter sequestered in his office with a bag of supplies she had purchased. When I peeked through the door to see what was up, it was shut in my face! They were SERIOUS about their Glogg making.
A few years later we added “luciakatter” (Lucia Buns) to the mix. Because, hey, if you’re making up to 20 types of cookies and candies why not throw in some shaped yeast rolls as well, right?!
I should mention that St. Lucia is also a big deal in dark, dark Sweden. The Swedes borrowed her from the Italians. While not an official holiday in Sweden, they still manage to get the day off. (I’ve never seen a country with so many holidays – perhaps part of the reason Jule is so popular as it gives them half of December and half of January off to celebrate!)
- – 12 drop cookies
- – 6 bar cookies
- – 5 candies
- – Luciakatter
And, much like me and my stocking gift hunt from childhood, friends get ATTACHED to their cookie. I learned this the hard way one year when I couldn’t find the right kind of almond paste so I didn’t make one of the regular cookies. Some considered this missing cookie a personal afront – to the point I had to make them for a birthday or two as penance!
Here we are almost a decade later and The Cookie Party has become a big deal for a lot of friends (especially those with cookie favorites) and for us as well. The week before the party I take PTO and friends drop by to help bake (we have some veteran nut choppers), decorate the house or just hang out. (We order lots of pizza since the oven is busy with cookies.) The night before the party the last things we make are the Glogg and Luciakatter til the wee hours. We also (mostly me) complain about sore feet and cookie-baking exhaustion… and happily do it all over again the next year… that’s what tradition is all about, right?